Gila Wilderness, National Forest and Cliff Dwellings, NM

There is a vast wilderness in the middle of the triangle formed by Phoenix, Albuquerque and El Paso known as the Gila National Forest. It is a remote, immense desert of stunning beauty, so much so that part of it was named for Aldo Leopold who designated it for protection.

As a bonus, we will visit the ancient Pueblo Gila Cliff Dwellings that date back over 700 years. Plus we'll soak in the remote and natural Jordan Hot Springs, tucked in a cubby hole above the Middle Fork of the Gila.

We will be visiting this geologic wonderland just as the temperate Spring unfolds. It's prime time to visit, so why not join us to see a wonderful place, improve your fitness level and lose some weight (or more accurately, alter body composition)?


The Gila Wilderness Fitpacking Trip will be from May 11-18, 2013. Here is the proposed itinerary.

Our trek will begin in Phoenix. We'll leave extremely early and shuttle up to Gila Wilderness (6 hours). We'll take some time to warm up by visiting the Ancient Cliff Dwellings. Finally, we'll start hiking. After a relatively short hike, we'll set up camp. We'll then spend the next few days hiking up Little Creek towards McKenna Spring and McKenna Flat. We'll head to White River and down to Hell's Hole before visiting long abandoned Prior Cabin. Then we spend a night at an incredible wilderness area called "The Meadows". Then we head down the canyon via the Middle Fork of the Gila River, crossing the river many, many times before taking our relaxing soak in the hot springs and hiking out the next day.


Although the elevation and incline of the trails are often moderate, there will be a few steep uphill climbs and downhill descents. However, the real difficulty is the countless water crossings that we'll encounter as we walk down the canyon -- Middle Fork of the Gila. We will be wearing sturdy water shoes, but they offer little ankle support. Plus the water may be quite cold.

The upside is that we get to carry less water. Normally desert trips require us to carry as much as 2+ gallons of water (at 8 pounds per gallon). Here, we will not only be able to carry less water, we will be at much less risk of dehydration and heat exhaustion, even though we'll be exposed to the hot desert sun.


Weather is always an important concern when hiking. Spring is the ideal time to hike in Gila Wilderness. Expect daytime hiking temperatures into the 70s & 80s and nighttime temperatures in the 40s & 50s, though it may reach the 90s during the day and freezing at night. Here are the historical weather averages Expect sunny, fair weather, but be prepared for the possibility of frigid nights.

Trip Leaders

Steve Silberberg, lives in Hull, MA and has many years of backpacking experience over a variety of terrains and guides most Fitpacking trips. He is a SOLO certified Wilderness First Responder, Leave No Trace Trainer, and Certified Food Handler.

Deb Lusk, lives in Phoenix, AZ and has hiked all over the Arizona Desert. She had guided Fitpacking trips all over the country is a SOLO certified Wilderness First Responder and a Certified Food Handler.

Equipment List

Here is a list of equipment we suggest you bring. The list is extensive and can seem daunting, but please don't let this deter you from the trip. You can rent top notch quality gear for reasonable prices from Traverse Outfitters, Lower Gear or Outdoors Geek. It may also be possible for us to provide some gear for you at a nominal fee if you let us know far ahead of the trip. Unfortunately, we're not in the gear business so the selection of our available inventory is unpredictable. Please feel free to discuss any gear with us before the trip.


We don't believe in austere eating regimens. Hiking is a rigorous, rewarding activity. You must feed your body in order for it perform. Your body will dictate that you eat often, so it's important to have fuel to feed it. Please check out the sample menus. This list is not comprehensive and may be altered or augmented. If you want to bring personal food, say a 5 pound chocolate cake, go for it. You'll not only hate carrying it all trip long, your body will reject the empty calories and prefer nutritious food.


$1200 per person double occupancy. Here, double occupancy means that you will share a room with another participant during the 2 hotel nights. You will also be responsible for transportation to and from Phoenix Sky-Harbor International Airport (PHX), personal equipment and any restaurant meals eaten off the trail.

Covered expenses include 2 hotel nights, campground fees, 6 days of trail meals, ground transportation to/from Phoenix, park permits, insurance, satellite phone and awesome guides.

Important Note

Fitpacking is on an ongoing quest to expand its selection of trip destinations. As such, this is the very first time we are offering a trip to Gila Wilderness. Even though they are seasoned backpackers, the guides for this trip may NOT have previously backpacked these particular trails.

Many intrepid participants are excited by pioneering new routes, but others don't feel as comfortable with this and may prefer a more established, predictable trip. Experience guiding a certain destination can make things run smoother, but do not underestimate the decades of backpacking experience that our guides possess which permeate every other aspect of the trip in order to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey.